Job 23 – My Paraphrase
Then Job answered and said: “Even today is my complaint bitter; my hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, if I knew where I might find God, then I would go to his dwelling place! I would make my case before him; my mouth would be filled with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would listen to me. There the righteous might reason with him, and I would be delivered forever from judgement.
“If I go forward, he is not there; and backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left hand, where he works, I cannot behold him; And when he turns to the right, I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. My foot has held fast in his steps; His way I have kept, and I have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than any food.
But God is one, who can turn him? What his soul desires, he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in awe and dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has caused me to tremble; since I was not consumed by the darkness, though the darkness covered my face!
One of the things you notice when you begin to compare the various translations of scripture and the Hebrew or Greek words that lay behind them is how much of translation is educated guesswork. The fact is that the manuscripts we have, even the best of them, have missing words. At times even whole sections of sentences are missing, or words or phrases are garbled or unintelligible. This is especially true for portions of the Hebrew testament. So when studying the Bible, it is always a good thing to compare two or more versions, and even then when one version varies a great deal from the others, take what it says with a grain of salt.
With that as background, I offer my own paraphrase of Job 23. Two verses which are particularly problematic are verses 7 and 17. I don’t believe we can obtain a completely reliable translation of either of them, and so I have stuck as close as possible to the Hebrew words we have. In spite of this difficulty, the overall thrust of this chapter is easy to ascertain. First, Job wishes to confront God. He wants to have his day in court and plead his case. In essence, he wants to know why he has been subject to all the loses he has experienced. Job is sure of his righteousness, and he is also sure that the righteous can make some headway with the Divine because of who and what they are.
In this way, Job is similar to his friends. You remember that Job’s friends make the argument that Job must have done something to deserve what has befallen him. Though Job rejects this, he persists in the belief that the righteous should be immune to tragedy. Of course, both he and his friends are wrong. Tragedy comes to all kinds of people – the righteous and the unrighteous, the just and the unjust. They come even if the Divine and Satan do not place bets on what will happen when they do occur (as is the case with Job). As another has said, the death of Jesus put an end once and for all to the notion that evil befalls only the wicked and that the righteous always prosper.
The truth of this, however, does not negate the desire or need we have at times to ask God, “Why?” When bad things happen to us or to those we love, we often need answers, and the only real answers to our questions can come from one source alone: God. And so we pray, we plead, we contend and we may even blame God for what has happened. But ultimately all of this is okay, for God is big enough to handle anything we may dish out.
A second thing we can see clearly from the chapter is that Job has a degree of fear and awe of God even at this stage in the story. Later on, when Job gets to confront God face to face, this awe and fear will increase exponentially the longer he is in the divine presence. It would seem that though God can handle anything we can throw at him, the reverse is not true. Sometimes I think we forget about “fearing” God, preferring to see God as our friend and buddy, and not, as Job calls him, “the Almighty.” God may in fact be our friend, but he is so much more than that as well, and we will never (at least on this plane of existence) be able to fully comprehend this fearsome God or his ways. As Job says, “But God is one, who can turn him? What his soul desires, he does.”